Pine Snakes Still Plaguing Development

Ben Ruset

Site Administrator
Oct 12, 2004
Monmouth County
Pine snakes still plaguing development

Published in the Asbury Park Press 1/18/03
PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP -- Developers of the snake-plagued Sanctuary development and the state Pinelands Commission are headed for the state Office of Administrative Law, but environmental activists must get to any hearings on their own.

Pinelands officials won't include environmental groups in the case as interested third parties, unlike other contested building projects that have been examined by administrative law judges over the commission's 23-year history.

Activists have been allies of the commission in earlier administrative law victories, notably the once-proposed Oxley Inc. development in Stafford. That 1980s plan might have resulted in hundreds of additional homes being built along Route 72, had the builders' quest been approved by a judge.

But Pinelands officials and environmental groups have been at odds over how the commission has handled the Sanctuary and its problems. It's different from earlier cases, and this time the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and other objectors should apply on their own to be admitted to proceedings in the Office of Administrative Law, deputy attorney general Valerie Haynes recommended to Pinelands commissioners yesterday.

The Sanctuary is a housing development in Burlington County where endangered timber rattlesnakes were found after a number of houses were built and some were occupied. The Pinelands Commission had approved the development, after inspections of the site by a consultant for the Samost family builders found no sign of snakes or other serious wildlife conflicts.

Environmental activists challenged the commission's plan for fencing off rattlesnake habitat, arguing it would do little to save the snakes. Now, after the additional discovery of threatened northern pine snakes on another part of the development last year, the commission has called in building plans for additional review, and the Samosts are appealing to an administrative law judge.

The Environmental Law Clinic at Rutgers University is representing the environmental groups, and asked to be included by the commission as third parties before the court, Haynes told commissioners.

"There is a process in the Office of Administrative Law" to determine third-party eligibility, and Haynes said she told the law clinic attorneys to go that route.

Haynes said previous cases that environmental groups joined involved exemptions from Pinelands regulations, called waivers. The move to review Sanctuary plans, known as a call-up under Pinelands rules, offers less justification to include the objectors in the court case, she said.

Carleton Montgomery of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance disagreed, saying Pinelands regulations allow his group to participate.

"It says very specifically: 'any interested party,' ' Montgomery said. "This is the way the commission has done it for 20 years.'

Annette Barbaccia, the commission's executive director, told commissioners she thinks it will help the commission to have environmental groups in court, but agreed with Haynes that they should apply on their own.

Montgomery said that's unusual for commission -- although not among state agencies generally, which tend not to help third parties get involved in administrative law appeals. He acknowledged the groups' challenge to the rattlesnake plans may have been a factor.

Kirk Moore: (732) 557-5728


Interesting article, Ben, thanks!
I think from the standpoint of environmentalists that is a disappointment, a setback, and given that the law states "any interested party" leaves room for disagreement, from a legal standpoint, regardless of one's personal stance on the issue.
But I also think that it shows our system sometimes works as it should, that there is a system of checks and balances re: special interest groups, even though in this case it is one that I *wholeheartedly* support--now only if we would see that with automobile makers and oil companies and many other special interest groups on the opposite side of the fence!!!
One thing I know, if the environmentalists win with the PPA applying separately as an interested party rather than as an ally to the Commission, it makes an even stronger statement than winning together, IMHO, for what it is worth.